Simultaneous Elections

A draft white paper released by the Law Commission of India on Tuesday recommends holding of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies, possibly in 2019.

It suggests amending the Constitution to realise this objective.

In a public notice annexed to the draft, the commission, which is the government’s highest law advisory body, said the white paper would be circulated to “constitutional experts, academia, political parties, bureaucrats, students, etc.” The commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice B.S. Chauhan, says opinions and suggestions should come in by May 8, 2018.

Key recommendations made by the commission in this regard:

  • It recommends that in 2019, the election could be held in phases. In the first phase, it says, elections to the legislatures which are scheduled to go for polls synchronous with the Lok Sabha in 2019 could be held together. The rest of the States could go to elections in proximity with the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.
  • Simultaneous elections in the country may be restored in the nation by amending the Constitution, Representation of the People Act of 1951 and the Rules of Procedure of the Lok Sabha and Assemblies.
  • The leader of the majority party is elected as PM or the CM by the entire house (Lok Sabha or Assembly)for stability.
  • In case a government falls midterm, the term of the new government would be for the remaining period only.
  • A no-confidence motion against the government should be followed by a confidence motion. No-confidence motion and premature dissolution of House are major roadblocks to simultaneous elections. Parties which introduce the no-confidence motion should simultaneously give a suggestion for an alternative government.
  • The “rigours” of the anti-defection law in the Tenth Schedule should be relaxed to prevent a stalemate in the Lok Sabha or Assemblies in case of a hung Parliament or Assembly.

Simultaneous elections: Is it a good idea?

  • This will help save public money.
  • It will be a big relief for political parties that are always in campaign mode.
  • It will allow political parties to focus more on policy and governance.

Need for simultaneous elections:

  • To reduce unnecessary expenditures: Elections are held all the time and continuous polls lead to a lot of expenditure. More than Rs1,100 crore was spent on the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the expenditure had shot up to Rs4,000 crore in 2014.
  • To reduce the unnecessary use of manpower: Over a crore government employees, including a large number of teachers, are involved in the electoral process. Thus, the continuous exercise causes maximum harm to the education sector.
  • Security concerns: Security forces also have to be diverted for the electoral work even as the country’s enemy keeps plotting against the nation and terrorism remains a strong threat.
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Passive euthanasia case: Centre opposes the living will

The court is now considering the plea of an NGO, Common Cause, to declare ‘right to die with dignity’ as a fundamental right within the fold of Right to Live with Dignity guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

A five-judge constitution bench of the top court, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, is hearing the case.

Besides the CJI, the bench also comprises justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan.

The court had in February 2014 referred to a Constitution bench a plea favouring voluntary passive euthanasia or mercy killing in cases where a person is suffering from a terminal illness and has no chance of revival and recovery as per the medical opinion.

How is living will defined?

‘Living will’ explain a situation whether or not a person wants to be kept on life support if he/she becomes terminally ill and will die shortly without life support, or fall into a persistent vegetative state. It also addresses other important questions, detailing a person’s preferences for tube feeding, artificial hydration, and pain medication in certain situations. A living will becomes effective only when a person cannot communicate his/her desires on own.

What is “passive euthanasia”?

The term “passive euthanasia” used by the Supreme Court in its verdict on Aruna Shanbaug’s case is defined as the withdrawal of life support, treatment or nutrition with the deliberate intention to hasten a terminally ill patient’s death.

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Banglore debates for direct election of Mayor

Bengaluru got its 51st mayor. However, despite this `worshipful’ post ­ of the first citizen of the city ­ having been in existence for more than half a century, the role of the mayor of Bengaluru has largely remained a ceremonial one. The Kasturirangan committee report on Bengaluru’s urban governance released in 2008, had termed the post as “a one-year wonder intended only for a ceremonial purpose.“

Time and again there has been talking about revisiting the mayor’s role.The latest was in 2015 when the BBMP Restructuring Committee recommended a directly-elected mayor with a five-year term.

Need for directly elected mayors:

While there are multiple reasons for India’s urban woes, one of the underlying problems is the absence of powerful and politically accountable leadership in the city. Our cities have a weak and fragmented institutional architecture in which multiple agencies with different bosses pull the strings of city administration.

Currently, the head of the municipal corporation, the mayor, is merely a ceremonial authority and executive decisions are carried out by the municipal commissioner appointed by the state government.

An elected mayor with substantial powers of his own not only provides a single point for negotiations with outside agencies and investors but also ensures greater coordination among the different city departments and promotes decisive decision making.

A popularly elected mayor with a fixed tenure also offers more stability in governance as the person is not dependent on the elected members of the council or on the local or state level political leadership for his survival in office. A stable leadership can also afford to roll out long-term plans that will ensure major changes in the cities political and economic landscape.

The concept should face the following challenges before it becomes a reality:
State governments do not wish to delegate more authority to city-level institutions. Often, urban resources are transferred to rural areas in the name of development. Even if the mayor is directly elected, the state governments can refuse to devolve power and resources, effectively reducing him to a figurehead.

The municipal commissioner also, sometimes, becomes a hurdle. Even if some powers are delegated to the municipality, the state governments have in place municipal commissioners to perform the executive functions, again cutting the mayor to size, the nature of mayoral election notwithstanding.

If a directly elected mayor belongs to a party in the minority in the municipality, it becomes difficult to get other municipality members on board in making decisions. This was witnessed in Himachal Pradesh, which ultimately led to the scrapping of this system.

Also, a mayor executing projects will tend to gain popularity at the expense of the local legislator whose job is to legislate and scrutinise the performance of the executive. A legislator will always see the directly elected and empowered mayor as a potential future rival and will do everything in his command to undercut his authority.

It is also widely felt that elected mayors may blur the lines between the three tiers of government: the Union, the states and the local self-governments.

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VVPAT to be used in Gujarat polls

The Election Commission of India will use Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) gadgets with Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in all 50,128 voting booths in Gujarat, which goes to the Assembly polls at the end of this year.

This is the first time an entire assembly poll will be conducted using EVMs equipped with VVPAT.

What are VVPAT machines?

A Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) unit provides feedback to voters using EVMs for voting. It is an independent verification printer machine and is attached to electronic voting machines. It allows voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended. It also serves as an additional barrier to changing or destroying votes.

How do VVPAT machines work?

VVPAT device functions like a printer attached to the ballot unit and kept inside the voting compartment. When the voter presses the button against the name of the candidate of her/his choice on the EVM unit, the VVPAT unit generates a paper slip, also called ‘ballot slip’. This paper slip contains the name, serial number, and symbol of the chosen candidate.

  • The voter can see this slip through a screened window where it stays for seven seconds and then it automatically gets cut and falls into a sealed drop box. Thus, the ballot slip neither goes into the hands of the voter nor others get to see it.
  • The Ballot Slip can only be accessed by the polling officers in the rarest of the rare cases.

Background:

In 2013, conduct of Election Rules, 1961 was amended to facilitate the introduction of VVPAT units. For the first time, VVPAT with EVMs was used for the Noksen Assembly seat in Tuensang district of Nagaland.

In the case of Subramanian Swamy vs Election Commission of India (ECI), the Supreme Court held that VVPAT is “indispensable for free and fair elections” and directed the ECI to equip EVMs with VVPAT systems. The apex court had directed the EC to introduce EVMs in a phased manner for the next General Elections in 2014, saying it would ensure free and fair polls. SC also directed the Centre to provide financial assistance for introducing VVPAT system.

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